Family Business—The Secret Behind the Success of Five Family-Owned Businesses

June 2015 View more

Naperville, known as a welcoming community, with great schools, a history of strong leadership and steady growth, is also an ideal hometown. In fact, Naperville continues to be regarded as one of the best cities for families in Illinois and the nation. It’s also a great place for family businesses to thrive. These family-owned companies share their stories of success as a testament to what makes Naperville special.

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Bill Anderson and Will Anderson

Oswald’s Pharmacy

In 1875, Oswald’s Pharmacy opened its doors in the heart of downtown Naperville. Just two years later, the company transitioned ownership to William Wickel, whose family still runs it today, making it the oldest family-owned pharmacy in Illinois. Although Oswald’s moved to Naperville Plaza on the corner of Washington Street and Gartner Road, many credit the store as one of the businesses that helped promote Naperville’s downtown growth from a small town to one of the largest cities in the state.

This year, Oswald’s celebrates 140 years of service in Naperville. But what sets Oswald’s apart from other pharmacies is the special feeling that owner Bill Anderson describes as one-of-a-kind. “When you walk in, you know right away this is a family-owned business,” said Bill. “We’ve known our customers for generations and the service reflects that.”


Greg DeGeeter, Dean DeGeeter, and Al DeGeeter

Dean’s Fine Clothing

Another Naperville staple, Dean’s Fine Clothing, opened in 1959 when Dean DeGeeter, who already ran a general store up the street, recognized the need for boys’ clothing. Eventually, the store began to carry men’s and women’s clothing, phasing out boys’ clothing altogether. Dean’s brother, Al DeGeeter joined the operation and is still the store’s most tenured and well-known employee. He works side-by-side with Dean’s son, Greg, who took over the family business when he was only 23 years old.

Both father and son put great effort into making sure the transition of ownership had no negative impact on customer service. The result is clearly reflected by Dean’s numerous “Best in Naperville” awards. “The most rewarding thing is having customers who are our neighbors, our friends. They live near us and shop with us. It’s an honor and pleasure to serve their needs,” said Greg.


Tim Greene and John Greene

john greene Realtor

When John and Pat Greene moved from the West Side of Chicago to Naperville in 1969, the town was as much farm land as developed land. The young couple got to work selling real estate and making friends in the community. By 1976, they were able to start their own company, john greene Realtor (jgR), which is now considered one of the most successful real estate companies in Chicagoland. “Naperville was good to us from the beginning,” said John. “This community opened their doors and hearts and provided opportunities for growth and success. We wanted to mirror that in our company.”

That commitment continues today with the passing of the torch from John to his son, Tim, who is now President and CEO. Early on, Tim spent a lot of time working with local farmers and saw the quality and integrity of their work and the pride they demonstrated in a job well done. Those interactions shaped how he leads the organization today. “We are very clear with our teams what a good job looks like and what is expected from us as members of this community,” said Tim. “I’ve seen tables turn overnight. We don’t ever take our success or our clients for granted.” That commitment shows, in that jgR has been named “Best of Naperville” since 2010.


Doug Gerald and Matt Gerald

Gerald Auto Group

A similar story can be told about the Gerald Auto Group, started by Neil Gerald in 1981 when he opened his first store. Back then, the population in Naperville was only 37,000. The economic situation at the time was similar to the downturn in 2008, making it difficult to open a business of any kind. Once again, the Naperville community pulled together to support another business owner committed to doing good work. “Naperville is a great town to raise a family and has been good to us,” said Neil Gerald. The family regularly shows its appreciation by being active participants and supporters of local causes and organizations.

Over the years, both of Neil’s sons, Doug and Matt, have come into the business, with Doug now the CEO and Matt managing the sales department. The secret to having three Gerald’s involved in the business is communication and similar personalities. “We have always been a close family and we communicate extremely well,” said Doug. “That made it easy for Dad to let go and trust us with the business.” That secret is definitely working. Repeat business at Gerald dealerships measures 60 percent and the dealership is one of 32 to win Nissan’s highest award for sales volume and customer service for the last 16 out of 18 years.


Barry Conlin and Carter Conlin

C.B. Conlin Landscapes

Like so many family business owners in Naperville, Barry Conlin’s childhood memories of growing up here have helped to shape his love of the community and desire to do great work in it. His interest in horticulture started early, and after receiving his degree and license, he learned the ropes with another landscaper before founding C.B. Conlin Landscapes in 1985. Since then, his company has been serving the Naperville community with great response. C.B. Conlin has been named “Best of Naperville” since the awards began in 2009.

Six years ago, Barry’s son, Carter joined the company which is something Barry says is the most wonderful part of being in business. “Our relationship is more than father-son,” said Barry. “His work ethic and dedication remind me of myself as a young man.” Having the next generation in the family business also provides the advantage of introducing new ideas that Barry may not have been as open to before. “Every suggestion he makes comes from wanting our family to succeed, so I try to give him as much opportunity as possible to try new things,” he says. Barry also credits all of his employees for bringing something special to the business.